You Can Be in Publishing AND Be an Introvert

Being an introvert is hard. It’s harder to go grocery shopping, go to the dentist, go to school, go get gas in your car (for those of you who are from Oregon), and do anything else that involves interacting with people.

Unfortunately, most times in life, things don’t just fall into our laps. We have to make them happen. Sometimes making things happen seems so overwhelming, we think we’d rather dig our own graves instead. But I want to talk about how you can make things happen in a way that might not exactly be 100% comfortable, but at least doable. You can be in publishing and be an introvert (and if you’re an extrovert looking for ways to get more involved in the business, these should help you too).

  1. The internet is your friend. Right now it’s National Novel Writing Month. Get on the Nano site and chat with people. You don’t have to look them in the eye or deal with their body motions. You just have to type. You can chat with writers through a safe medium. You can also get on Goodreads to talk about books with other people.
  2. For those of you who already have a novel written, query tracker is another excellent website to get on and talk with other authors. You don’t have to go through the querying process alone. Chat with authors querying the same agents, chat with authors writing in your genre!
  3. Go to book signings. You don’t have to talk to anyone. Just sit in the back and listen. Or make a friend go with you. Listen to how authors got their start in the business. Stay for the Q&A after the presentation to learn even more! Sometimes authors bring their publicists or other people from the publishing company with them. Go talk to these people. Make sure they know your name. Most people in the business are easily approachable, you just have to make the first move.
  4. Networking is difficult no matter what, but you can make it easier for yourself. Go to conferences. This can seem particularly daunting. There will be lots of people moving about. They all seem to know each other. They seem to have no trouble talking to each other. It’s not fair. But you can network too. Talk to the people sitting next to you at events. Book people are so friendly. And you already have something to talk about! How easy is it to ask “So what do you write?” After you get into the swing of things, start talking to the authors.
  5. If you don’t feel quite up to going to conferences just yet, talk to people in the bookstore. Seriously, talk to the people looking for books in the same aisles that you are. You already have the same interests. Start by asking them the last good book they read.
  6. Make friends with an extrovert. Get them to do the hard stuff.
  7. It’s easier to meet people when you know what to say. Get confident in publishing by doing your research. Read blog interviews with agents and editors. Get on Agent Query and look up all the information! Use twitter to keep tabs about what industry professionals are talking about.
  8. Take creative writing classes and do internships. Learning how to edit will help you learn how to be a better writer.
  9. Form critique groups. You can meet people at the websites I’ve already mentioned and through the other activities listed. Make friends so you don’t have to go places alone!
  10. Become familiar with the business side and the fun side. Learn what the agents, editors, publicists, marketers, bloggers, illustrators, and other publishing professionals do too. When you know the big picture, it helps with your writing. Learn a little about what to expect in a book contract. You can find these by doing an online search.

Know that the more you do these things, the easier it will get.

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I am not an “aspiring writer”

In the last month, we here at The Plotless have made our way to a number of bookish events—book launch parties, indie publishing conferences, teen book festivals, you name it. (One of the perks of living in Utah is that the writing and reading communities here are absolutely thriving which means we have lots of excuses to hang out at fun events.) Over the course of these events, though, I kept hearing this phrase tossed around that made me grit my teeth and want to claw at the drywall. It’d come in the form of a question during an author’s Q&A with her readers or in an introduction when we were meeting new people.

Aspiring writer.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. There is literally nothing wrong or offensive or even odd about that phrase. Plenty of people identify as aspiring writers. Plenty of people say that phrase with hope in their eyes as they gaze longingly at published authors and dream of what they can become. As far as phrases go, aspiring writer is pretty innocuous.

But I hate it. I hate it so much.

I used to call myself an aspiring writer. I used to introduce myself to people at book events that way (or I would have if I could have gotten over my crippling social anxiety that kept me from talking to strangers), but it’s not a phrase that fits me anymore.

To me, the word aspiring indicates that you’re not actually writing. You’re not actually doing any of the work that gets you from daydreaming hobbyist to published author. Aspiring indicates hopes and dreams—and those are all good things—but aspiring doesn’t indicate work. It doesn’t mean the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a book. It doesn’t mean that you’ve spent the hours practicing and honing your craft, learning to write, learning to plot, learning to revise, and learning to start all over again.

And those are things that I’ve been doing for the last few years. In the last year alone, I’ve written at least 250,000 words of fiction—and with NaNoWriMo in full swing, I plan to write at least 80,000 more by the end of the month. (I know the goal is 50K, but I’m a bit of an overachiever.) I have labored over characters and stories and words. I’ve re-written and revised until I thought my eyes would fall out and my fingers would bleed. I’ve poured parts of myself into stories that I’m proud of.

But I can guarantee to you that none of the words I’ve written in the last year will ever find their way to an editor’s desk. You won’t find those words between the covers of a book in a few years. They won’t ever be published in the traditional sense of the word.

I’m okay with all of that—it’s been a very deliberate choice on my part to flex my creative muscles knowing that the work I’ve done in the last year will never make me money—but what I’m not okay with is the idea that because those words haven’t been pruned by an editor or won’t find their way to a shelf on a bookstore that I am somehow not a writer.

Because a writer is someone who writes. That’s literally the definition of the word. Writer: one who writes. And I write. I write a lot. Now I haven’t been published. I haven’t made a single penny off the words I’ve strung together. That is something I aspire to do one day. But I don’t aspire to write. That’s something I already do. I have shared my words with complete strangers. I’ve opened up a bit of myself to them and these strangers open themselves back up to me and the exchanges I’ve had with my readers and the friendships I’ve made because of that are absolutely invaluable to me. I do not regret the year I’ve spent crafting these stories, even though most people think I’m “not a real writer” because I don’t make money off of my words.

At the end of the day, though, I don’t care what they think. It’s none of my business what they think. An aspiring writer aspires and a writer writes.

And by that definition, I am a writer and that’s all that matters to me.